Five More Native Plants



  • Needle-and-thread
  • Previously known plant
  • Stipa comata
  • Perennial, grass family, found in drier sites across the Great Plains. Needle-and-thread is related to two other very similar species. This cool season grass (it matures in the late spring) is a staple of drier ranges. It is both drought and winter tolerant. Its seeds are very sharp with a long twisted awn attached, thus its common name. American Indians bound rows of seed heads into bundles and used them for a comb.


Shell leaf penstemon

  • Shell-leaf penstemon
  • Previously known
  • Penstemon grandiflorus Latin translation: Big flowers with five stamens
  • Perennial, figwort or snapdragon family, Eastern Great Plains. It is also called beardtongue and bluebells. This plant is striking due to its height as well as its showy flowers, but disappointingly it has no scent. Several species of Penstemon grow in Nebraska, but only one is scented and it is done blooming. I may write about it later, if I see any, which I probably won’t. Several tribes used Penstemon to treat a variety of ailments including stomach aches, chest pains, vomiting, toothache and both snake and eagle bites. The Lakota Sioux made a dye from another Penstemon for use on moccasins.


Black Samson

  • Black Samson
  • Previously known
  • Echinacea angustifolia In Greek, echinus means sea urchin or hedgehog
  • Perennial, sunflower family, various species found throughout the Great Plains. American Indians used Echinacea for many things and passed this knowledge to pioneers. They treated mumps, smallpox, snakebites and bee stings, toothaches, rabies, arthritis, and stomach cramps, as well as symptoms of the common cold. Some tribes used it as a stimulant like primitive caffeine.
  • In 1871 Dr. H. C. F. Meyer, a patent medicine salesman of Pawnee City, Nebraska, who had heard about the use of the plant by the Indians, marketed a tincture of the root as Meyer’s Blood Purifier. This potion was touted to cure syphilis, gangrene, diphtheria, cold sores and malaria as well as everything the Indians used it for and many other diseases as well. Dr Meyer was so sure of his blood purifier, he offered to let a rattlesnake bite him, then he would cure himself using only his medicine. In the 1920s scientists tested Echinacea but could not find evidence that it cured snakebites, anthrax, botulism, tetanus or tuberculoses. It does have medicinal properties, aside from treating colds. If you peel the outer skin from the root and chew on the black and white tap root your mouth will tingle in a metallic way and go numb, apparently it has numbing properties when used topically as well.


Showy Milkweed

  • (Showy?) Milkweed
  • Previously known
  • Asclepias speciosa Nebraska is home to 15 species of milkweed, and many of them are very similar.
  • Perennial, milkweed family. In the 1940s, the US government began ordering lifejackets and flight suits lined with milkweed because it is light and very buoyant. It is also used in comforters. Milkweeds have an incredibly sweet odor, but the scent masks several toxins. Monarch butterflies eat large amounts of milkweed while they are in the caterpillar stage, and retain the toxins once they become butterflies. Birds learn to avoid eating monarchs because of this. American Indians cooked milkweed much as we might use cabbage. Children chewed the sap like gum. Dried seedpods served as spoons. The most interesting medicinal use was to aid in lactation. They believed the white milkweed milk would encourage a mother’s milk. If that weren’t enough, they also used it to cure tapeworm and as a contraceptive. I am pretty sure my contraceptive does not guard against tapeworm, but maybe I should ask my doctor.


Sensitive Briar

  • Sensitive Briar
  •  Seen one other time
  • Schrankia nuttallii
  • Perennial, mimosa family, found throughout the central and southern Great Plains on dry disturbed sites. Rather than the flower what you actually see are tubular pink stamens each tipped with a yellow anther. The leaves of this plant collapse inward when they are disturbed, and they are great fun to mess with. The leaves may collapse to conserve moisture.

A Step Back


First, a note about my sources. I have my trusty out-of-print Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains by Farrar which is an unparalleled source for Nebraska flowers. I own three copies, the nicest one stays in the office, the one with the denim book cover rides around in the car with me, and the one with the bunged up cover is in the kitchen. My second favorite sources are two books by Kelly Kindscher, Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie. These delightful books are full of original sources and chock full of information. Melvin Gilmore’s 1914 thesis, Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region, for (I assume) a master’s degree in Botany from the University of Nebraska is a fun historical perspective on native plants. He did lots of primary research among Indian tribes along the Missouri River. My oddest source is a huge three ring binder I literally had to beg a man to copy for me. Clarence Nollett put together over 450 pages of spectacular information called Range Grasses and Plants of the Native Prairie.  I may very well be the only non-descendant to own the book.  I am unsure, maybe a little skeptical, as to Mr. Nollett’s sources, since he often has information that none of my other books contain.  Finally, I received a copy of Plants of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by Phillips several years ago as a gift, and I look forward to really delving into it for the first time.

July 1-41

Now a plug for the place I bought most of these books. The tiny town of Valentine, Nebraska has the best bookstore in the world, well definitely in Nebraska. The Plains Trading Company stocks everything from Harry Potter to Ben Green’s Horse Trading. He has Cather’s complete works and Snyder Yost and John Grishom and Amy Tan. It has the unique feature which keeps a small town (1100 people) book store in business, something for everyone. He stocks a treasure trove of plant, animal and nature books as well as tons of stuff about Indians and cowboys too.

These photos are re-runs but with more information, as promised.

white-eyed grass

  • White eyed grass
  • Previously known
  • Sisyrinchium campestrae
  • Perennial, Iris family, found in the Southeastern Great Plains
  • The leaves come directly from the ground like domestic iris do.  American Indians made a tea from this plant to treat stomach cramps and hay fever



  • Rose
  • Previously known
  • Rosa arkansana
  • Perennial, Rose family, found throughout the Great Plains
  • Rose hips or fruits were used as an ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of meat, fat and berries the Indians ate in the wintertime. Many tribes used rose petals in salads and as a fragrance for hair oils and perfumes. The young shoots were used as an herb. The bark, roots, petals, hips and stems were used by different tribes to make teas. I have made rose hip jelly, it tasted a little like apple jelly. Various parts of the rose have been used widely by Indians and pioneers to treat diarrhea as well as a variety of eye problems including snow blindness and cataracts. Rose hips contain an enormous amount of vitamin C, much more than your basic orange.

Prairie ragwort

  • Prairie ragwort
  • Previously known, not researched
  • Senecio plattensis
  • Perennial, Sunflower family, found throughout Great Plains
  • Senecio in Latin means old man. The name refers to a tuft of white hairs at the top of the plant’s fruit. Several species of Senecio grow across the Great Plains.  Lewis’ journal vaguely alludes to Senecio along the Missouri. American Indians used some Senecios to treat a variety of uterine issues. According to Mr. Nollett, it is mildly poisonous to livestock, causing liver damage and a disease called stomach staggers. He also notes that it was used to increase perspiration and treat kidney stones.


  • Onion
  • Previously known
  • Allium canadense in Latin, canadense means northern
  • Perennial, Lily family, found throughout the Great Plains
  • Both onions and garlic grow wild in the prairie. They look very similar to each other and also very similar to a plant called Death camas, which is highly toxic. Bear this in mind if you think you see a wild onion. Onions flower though June. American Indians used onions for cooking, in much the same way we do now. Indians used onion to relieve many maladies including coughing, vomiting, sore throats, ear infections, swelling, constipation, colds, headaches and sinus trouble. Explorers ate onions to prevent scurvy. Onions provide a good source of vitamins C and A.

pink poppy mallow


  • Pale Poppy Mallow
  • I knew of the purple variety
  • Callirhoe alcaeoides
  • Perennial, Mallow family, found in undisturbed sites in the Southeastern Great Plains.  A close relative, purple poppymallow is quite showy and grows along road ditches.
  • American Indians cooked the roots like parsnips.  The leaves when cooked are mucilaginous and were used to thicken soups

I accept the challenge


I am joining a Xanga plant challenge. When I saw “100 species challenge,” I thought for sure it would be birds. I have a heck of a time with birds. You can pick up plants and look at them then glue them to paper for future reference. You can pick up bugs and look at them then pin them to a board. If I could press birds and then peruse a bird book at my leisure it would work great for me. I have actually pressed some birds – on the grill of my vehicle, but it can be difficult to identify them if too many feathers blow off and it just isn’t a very reliable method of bird collection. Not to mention the fact I feel bad every time I drive over something I shouldn’t (see previous post).

I see this as a great opportunity to drag my kids into mosquito infested pastures and make them resent my passion for plants. My dad drug us to cemeteries and museums for decades and guess what? I am interested in history…but I can visit a museum and not read each description of each article, unlike my father. Today I headed over to the hay field next to our property. The grass is taller than Mae, and we were all wearing shorts, so it wasn’t as much fun as advertised, but I took the butterfly net and camera, so the ladies had something to fight over. I got a new weed (I probably should know it) and some grasses. Is marijuana native? I will have to look that up. I wonder if it has any cultural properties I could research…lol. They call it Nebraska No High for a reason I suppose.

Here are the official rules and then my personal modifications to them.


1. Participants should include a copy of these rules and a link to this entry in their initial blog post about the challenge. I [Sarah] will make a sidebar list of anyone who notifies me that they are participating in the Challenge.

2. Participants should keep a list of all plant species they can name, either by common or scientific name, that are living within walking distance of the participant’s home. The list should be numbered, and should appear in every blog entry about the challenge, or in a sidebar.

3. Participants are encouraged to give detailed information about the plants they can name in the first post in which that plant appears. My [Sarah’s] format will be as follows: the numbered list, with plants making their first appearance on the list in bold; each plant making its first appearance will then have a photograph taken by me, where possible, a list of information I already knew about the plant, and a list of information I learned subsequent to starting this challenge, and a list of information I’d like to know. (See below for an example.) This format is not obligatory, however, and participants can adapt this portion of the challenge to their needs and desires.

4. Participants are encouraged to make it possible for visitors to their blog to find easily all 100-Species-Challenge blog posts. This can be done either by tagging these posts, by ending every post on the challenge with a link to your previous post on the challenge, or by some method which surpasses my technological ability and creativity.

5. Participants may post pictures of plants they are unable to identify, or are unable to identify with precision. They should not include these plants in the numbered list until they are able to identify it with relative precision. Each participant shall determine the level of precision that is acceptable to her; however, being able to distinguish between plants that have different common names should be a bare minimum.

6. Different varieties of the same species shall not count as different entries (e.g., Celebrity Tomato and Roma Tomato should not be separate entries); however, different species which share a common name be separate if the participant is able to distinguish between them (e.g., camillia japonica and camillia sassanqua if the participant can distinguish the two–“camillia” if not).

7. Participants may take as long as they like to complete the challenge. You can make it as quick or as detailed a project as you like. I’m planning to blog a minimum of two plants per week, complete with pictures and descriptions as below, which could take me up to a year. But you can do it in whatever level of detail you like.

Wildflowersp’s tweaked version:

2a. Plants will be native species to this area

2b. I am going to have to increase the range too, maybe go county-wide

3a. The thought of messing around with loading 100 photos on dialup is enough to keep me up past midnight, so not many photos.

  1. New plant or previously known plant
  2. Common name
  3. Latin name
  4. General information including where located
  5. Cultural information
  6. New information I found

On your mark, get set, go!